DETROIT — For the second time in a week, the Tigers offense couldn’t come through in a simple ninth-inning situation.
Unlike Sunday, though, there was no 10th-inning miracle to save them.
Trailing the Yankees by one run, Detroit put runners on the corners with no one out in the ninth, but couldn’t get the tying run across the plate, much less the winning run. Jim Leyland had Jeff Baker and Delmon Young on the bench, but stuck with Ramon Santiago and Quintin Berry. Both popped out before Andy Dirks flew out to center field to complete the Tigers’ 4-3 loss.
Leyland, in fact, said that he never considered pinch-hitting, but he did plan a bunt with Santiago. Oddly, it wasn’t going to be a squeeze bunt to tie the score, but a simple sacrifice to move Omar Infante into scoring position.
“After Santiago took the first pitch, I wanted him to sacrifice the runner to second,” Leyland said. “We had a miscommunication with the signs, which is my fault. I had hit-and-run and then I called bunt, and I confused (third-base coach) Gene (Lamont).
As it turned out, a successful bunt wouldn’t have changed anything, because Berry’s pop-up wouldn’t have moved the runners. However, Berry’s failure is a worrying sign, given his recent struggles. After the fairy-tale start to his career, he is hitting .244 since the All-Star break with 22 strikeouts in 22 games.
Of course, the Tigers should have never gotten into a bottom-of-the-ninth situation in the first place. They led 3-2 in the eighth, but set-up man Joaquin Benoit fell victim to the long ball once again, giving up homers to Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez on back-to-back pitches. Since the All-Star break, Benoit has allowed nine runs in 10 1-3 innings, including seven homers.
“He’s just not getting the ball where he needs it,” Leyland said. “He hasn’t been keeping the ball in the ballpark very well.”
Benoit has now given up 11 homers, the most he has allowed since converting to full-time relief in 2006. That means, in 50 1/3 innings this season, he has allowed more home runs than Rick Porcello (128 2/3 innings) and Doug Fister (106 innings). Still, Leyland isn’t second-guessing Benoit’s role as Detroit’s eighth-inning specialist.
“If Joaquin Benoit is healthy, he’s our set-up guy,” Leyland said. “Right now, he’s healthy. He threw the ball 95 mph today. That wasn’t an issue.”
Benoit declined to talk to reporters after the game, but he got some sympathy from Fister. Fister was in line for the victory, having allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings, but answered questions in his usual low-key manner.
“Obviously, you feel for him,” Fister said. “Any time you see a pitcher getting hit, you feel for them. You feel their pain and the struggle. It’s a brotherhood.”